Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Big Climb for Big Change

Trekking across the Arctic for three months in life threatening conditions, I really got to understand the human body and what it is capable of. It has helped me in everything I have done since to keep a positive mental attitude and keep things in perspective. It made me realize that when you think you have nothing left to give, your tank is still half full. In September, I attempted to summit Mont Blanc along with some of my closest friends to launch our startup charity Big Change Charitable Trust. The money raised from the event will be used to improve the lives of young people in the UK and you can see details of the projects we are supporting on the website. In the meantime, here is my account of our final day on the mountain.

Friday 7th September, 2am
An overwhelming sense of adventure filled the air. Heading off into the dark abyss not knowing what we were to face was exciting. Were we to succumb to the altitude? Fall into a crevasse? Would the legs give up? Not knowing how tough it would be excited me. What I did know is that as long as you keep a positive mental attitude then you can always achieve more. I didn’t just want to get to the top, I wanted to do it with a huge smile on my face.

Crampons, head torch and ice axe at the ready we set off under the night sky up the mountain. 

We made it over the first dome and onto the next. Trudging through the snow, foot after foot in some sort of sleepy meditative state.  It was peaceful.

As we hit the brow of the Dome du Goutêr I was suddenly hit with an overwhelming realisation of what we were doing. It is so easy to get caught up in the details, the timing of things, kit check, body management etc. But when I walked over that dome I was awestruck. Above me towered the summit of Mont Blanc, standing like a timeless giant silhouetted in the night sky. The dull grey surface of it, glowing in the moonlight, a narrow snake like trail of headlamps slowly making its way up the steep face like a stairway of stars to the sky. The dull glow of sun pink rising on the mountains to our left, coating the frozen mountaintops in a warm blanket. It was incredible and in moment I was totally alive, in the present with not a care in the world. No leg ache or tiredness, just a full appreciation for nature and the world we live in. 

It drove me on step after step all the way to the summit and made me think of all the brave adventurers over time who have risked their lives to push our understanding of the world. The challenges people face in the world always come to mind when I am doing something like this and it always makes me put things in perspective: ‘So what if my legs hurt and I am exhausted? This pain will be short lived and soon enough it will be over’. This is not a luxury for a lot of people and the idea of that pushes me on to do my best. It is also what Big Change is really about: helping people overcome challenges however big or small they might seem and this climb really reminded me of that. Don't forget to check out the website and there are more pics on the Big Change facebook page

Big thanks to our sponsor and suppliers because without them this expedition would not have been possible:


Clothing from Bergans (www.bergans.com)
Accommodation from Hip Chalets (www.hipchalets.com)
Equipment from Grivel (www.grivel.com)
Boots from Scarpa (www.scarpa.com)
Sunglasses from Adidas Eyewear (www.adidas.com/eyewear)
Chamonix Tourist Office (www.chamonix.com)
Photos from Martin Hartley (www.martinhartley.com)


Monday, 10 September 2012

Humans relationship with nature and a world in peace - PART: 1

For me, human relationship with nature and a world in peace are inextricably linked. I am not claiming to be an expert any more than anyone else is, just a young man trying to understand the world and our place within it. As an animal on this planet like any other, our relationship with the natural world is what makes us who we are and brings us closer to contentment and an understanding of the bigger picture.

In my life, I strive to have the biggest picture view of the world and life as I can. Building on this by (amongst other things) having new experiences, travelling to new places, learning about other cultures, having a thirst for knowledge, understanding the science of things and sharing thoughts with people. The better understanding we have of the world and the way it works, the more we can lead ourselves through life in the best way possible.

This big picture view allows you to keep life in perspective, make rational decisions and help you not get caught up in the little stuff. Imagine the earth from out of space. That glowing ball of life, floating in the midst of an endless black abyss. Then think of yourself within that image and next time something is bothering you, ask yourself the question: 'on the big scale of things, does this really matter? Should I allow this to ruin my day and put a negative on my mood?' Once you are able to tap into this perspective it will help you live a happier and more fulfilled life.

‘The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude' 
William James

I have come to this thought mainly by my time spent in nature. Being in the natural elements of this world is humbling and inspiring. Seeing life in all shapes and sizes existing harmoniously with each other. Every day I think how lucky I am. For me to be here today, every living creature (my ancestors) from the beginning of life on this planet has survived long enough to have reproduced. They have made it possible for me to be brought into the world and experience the magic of life for myself. As have you... Our family is not only that of blood but every living creature in this world. We are all brothers and sisters in this miracle of life and it is important that we respect this relationship. Albert Einstein once said:

"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the 'Universe', a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

What I love about his words here is that the mere striving for such a perspective is in itself creating the foundation for being a happier person. Therefore we don’t need to put all the focus on ‘what can I do’ but on trying to be the best you can be and the rest will come. The happier you are, then the more happiness you will spread to others and environments around you will benefit. We can make a better world.

For Part 2 of this Blog entry please click here.

Humans relationship with nature and a world in peace - PART: 2

Every time in nature I feel more connected to the heart of things. Vast oceans teeming with life, mountains shadowing valleys below, wind sweeping across deserts, carrying the sounds and smells of a million places with it, the warmth of the sun on your skin… the smell of crisp fresh air. It is important to take the time to be in nature, think about it all and appreciate the moment you are in.

These things are all awe-inspiring and being in their presence affords you the time to be reflective on life and look objectively on the world. I remember this feeling most on a three month Arctic expedition I was on. That amount of time in nature’s harsh elements forces the clutter of daily life out of one’s head and gives one the chance to look in at the world as 'an outsider'. I remember thinking to myself how incredible our species is to have evolved to do the things we do, but also how lost we are within the way we live with the knowledge we have. The knowledge we have been passed on from a thousand other discoveries from generations before us.

It made me understand where the human ego comes a little more. Think about it. If all of our memories were wiped tomorrow, we would not even be able to tie our shoelaces. Most human beings have this innate feeling that somehow we are better than other creatures on this planet and therefore have the right to abuse the intelligence we have to control and use them for our benefit, without a regard for their lives and wellbeing. But all our intelligence in essence is an accumulation of small discoveries over a long period of time.

The main two things that leaped the human species forward in evolution are opposable thumbs and the potential to communicate with one another. This ability to communicate is what has allowed us to share information over time and build on what people before us have learned about the planet. As incredible as we seem, all we are doing is adding to this and building on experiences before us.

I can see how people can mistake our species for a godlike creature, better than the rest. One that has ‘the right’ to choose what can live and die, suffer or not. But this is not the way to live. Nor is it the way our species will live harmoniously with mother earth and survive in the years to come. We have to respect every element of life and view ourselves as equals to the rest and in striving for such a way of living the world will instantly be a better place.

Every day we find ourselves faced with injustices in this world and I don’t know about you but it makes me incredibly frustrated and saddened. Sometimes my love for life and peoples wellbeing makes my heart want to burst I feel so empathetic. It can really hurt. This empathy and passion is what is driving me to write this piece. I believe that empathy is going to be one of the most important feelings in the coming years of the planet. For one to be empathetic to another and feel compassionate to them is what is going to help us understand and care for our fellow man and creature and stop us causing injustices and fighting for futile goals and killing one another for them. The idea that countries spend billions with the pure aim of creating machinery that kills our fellow man is unfathomable. In the modern day and age and the knowledge we now have it is unacceptable to behave the way we do. I know we are an immature species and have not been around long, but that is no excuse to behave and continue to behave in the immature manner we do.

Our striving to have a better relationship with nature can help us all to have the ability to look at the bigger picture and not get caught up in small things in life. Enabling us to put aside meaningless differences. It will help us take away what I like to call the ‘confused human ego’ and allow us to live a more humble and peaceful existence.

In that picture from out of space we are one. There are no borders, races, and nationalities. We are all people of one home. Let’s start acting that way and use the knowledge and intelligence we have to create a better world.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Whale Sharks and a Planet in Peril

I recently returned home from an incredible trip to Mexico to visit the migration of Whale Sharks. 

Off the coast of Mexico is a small island called Isla Mujeres, where once a year between June and September hundreds of Whale Sharks congregate to feed on the plankton rich waters. Covering an area of 7 miles they gorge themselves day after day. 

Swimming with this beautiful, majestic species was one of the most humbling and incredible experiences of my life.

Early in the morning we hopped on a boat and headed out to the deep ocean for about an hour. Arriving at the location one could instantly see dozens of fins breaking the waters surface. Growing to up to 40ft in length they are a real sight to see. A mixture of excitement and anticipation fills the body and the thought of jumping in with them makes you a little anxious. Having now been through that experience, i now know all the nerves were completely unnecessary. 

That creature couldn't have been more gentle. Their 20 tonne weight gracefully glides through the water effortlessly, gulping huge mouthfuls of water as they go, filtering out the plankton. Their species originated around 60 million years ago and are so heavy, they rival many of the large dinosaurs in weight. But i couldn't have felt more comfortable. Not at one point did i feel threatened of scared.

You can swim along next to them, under them and over them and they don't even bat an eye lid (if they've got one! ;)  I swam deep down about 30 ft and rolled onto my back, looking up at the huge dark shadow above me. I spread my arms and swam underneath it's graceful presence, mirroring its form. It was so humbling and awe inspiring!

These experiences are wonderful but in a world filled with human immaturity, it saddens me to say these incredible beasts are being slaughtered for their fin. A Whale Shark fin will sell for around $50,000 and is used for shark fin soup. Shark fin in soup adds no flavour whatsoever. It is basically a thickening agent and a sign of stature on some parts of the world.

There are small villages in the world that kill one of these creatures every 6 months to feed an entire village and although this still seems brutal, it is easier to justify. The mass slaughter of this magnificent creature to supply roadside restaurants is one that has to change. 70 - 100 million Sharks a year are killed for their fin and the stability of the Oceans has already been effected. How can we justify this with all the knowledge the modern world affords us?

To think that species that have been around for millions of years can be wiped out in mere centuries is unfathomable. We must all help to get the message out that this is not something we will tolerate. If not for the Sharks sake, then for ours. The very fabric of the web of our planet is being weakened, one species at a time and it is up to individuals act if no one else will. My way of doing this is to share what i have learnt with you and hope in a way it will inspire you to make more of the world we live in.

I have been lucky enough to have had this experience and be humbled by it. I Hope that you have enjoyed me sharing it with you. If you ever get the chance, jump at the opportunity to see this magnificent creature up close and  if not then i hope i have given you a small window into the life of an incredible creature!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Flying over Madagascar

Flying over the wide expanse of Madagascar, thought it a poignant time to write a blog.

There are scattered clouds below me creating freckle like shadows on the reddish rock. I find it much easier to reflect up here and in a way enables you to have a birds’ eye view of things, an opportunity to look at the bigger picture.

Learning about this incredible place has been inspiring. It’s a mixture between magical and tragic.

Madagascar is the most bio-diverse place on the planet. The areas left are teeming with life. The bush hums with the noise of thousands of little mouths, in all shapes and sizes. The hum just magnifies the chilling silence of the endless emptiness around it. 90% of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed due to logging and slash and burn agriculture. In between the vein-like channels of trees below me are endless fields of crops. Like giant circuit boards feeding energy to the local inhabitants.

There are three types of people on the planet; thinkers, doers and those that do both. I myself have always been a thinker, but recently I have become a doer too and it is amazing what you can get done. Up here above scattered clouds below, I can see that with passion and a little dedication we can make this planet the success story of the universe, not a tragedy. Find whatever it is in life that inspires you, store it in a place in your heart and use it for energy. Madagascar is one of a million places in peril. But those million places are all one. We have one home.

It makes me think; how can we co-exist with our magnificent world and still survive? In fact we can only survive if we co-exist harmoniously with her. Seeing how invasive species of plants here take over everything with no regard for its fellow plant reminds me of another species! But we have a choice of how we act. Humans can be incredibly destructive but we also have the power to help things thrive. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to help - it is a wonderful experience learning about the planet in the process.

Someone once told me what comes from the heart goes to the heart and all the rest is funny noises. Well this is from my heart. I believe there is an incredible person in each and every one of us. Be the best you can be and make a positive difference.